CHRISTIANS in the United States who do not wish to buy health
insurance that pays for conditions that "result from immoral
practices" are being offered an alternative: to trust their fellow
Christians to pay their bills.
It is estimated that about 300,000 Americans are members of
medical sharing groups, and are thus exempt from the legal
requirement, which came into force this year, to purchase health
insurance or pay a penalty. The groups are garnering increased
attention, as tensions arise from the US government's health
reforms, and religious groups' desire to secure exemptions (News, 4
Samaritan Ministries, a not-for-profit corporation founded in
1991, has 36,000 households in its network, comprising more than
120,000 individuals. Every month, they share more than $9
million-worth of medical costs.
When a medical need arises, a member sends his or her bills to
Samaritan Ministries. Those deemed "publishable" are then allocated
to other members, who mail their "monthly share" directly to the
member in need. This is an entirely voluntary process.
The current monthly share calculated by Samaritan Ministries is
$405 for a two-parent family of any size. This is about three times
less than the premium paid by the average insured family ($16,000 a
year). The organisation attributes this to various factors,
including the avoidance of habits that can harm health.
The financial advantage is likely to be eliminated for many
families, however, under the Affordable Care Act, which provides
The Act has also banned annual limits on insurance plans,
although there is a limit of $250,000 per need for members of
Samaritan Ministries. Pre-existing conditions may also be limited
or excluded. Members with HIV/AIDS must demonstrate that the
condition was contracted "innocently".
Members must also fulfil spiritual requirements, verified by a
pastor. They must be "professing Christians" who attend church at
least three out of four weeks every month. They must sign up to a
statement of faith, and avoid drugs, sexual activity outside
"traditional biblical marriage", excessive alcohol consumption, and
Samaritan Ministries states that outsourcing the payment of
health care to the government or an insurance party can "undermine"
the biblical principle set out in Galations 6.2 ("Carry each
other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of
Christ"). Members must waive their right to file a lawsuit against
the organisation, or any of its members.
Medical sharing groups are operating against a backdrop of
conflict between the US government and religious groups who are
seeking to secure opt-outs from the requirement to provide
insurance for employees which includes expenses such as
contraception and abortion.